Sundance 2020: The Night House review – big noise, big scares, and big fun

3.5

Summary

The Night House finds director David Bruckner in killer form, using a tremendous Rebecca Hall performance to maximize this popcorn-horror experience.

Insidious became the first horror movie to instill a palpable amount of fear in my life. For many years, horror had been a genre I just never interacted with, using excuse after excuse to avoid watching them with friends. Since then, horror slowly has made its way into my movie-going experiences, and though I still get scared from time to time, the idea of a horror movie doesn’t instantly instill fear anymore. Enter The Night House.

David Bruckner’s newest film wants to scare you from the get-go. It jumps right into its story, following Beth (Rebecca Hall), a recent widow of suicide living in her house by a large (and ominous) lake. Due to copious amounts of alcohol and an understandable amount of sadness, Beth has trouble sleeping over the next few days, leading to lots of nightmares, or spirits, or demonic forces surrounding her home. With excellent use of shadows, the focused reality of practicing and believing in dark magic, and a dark, loud score, Bruckner creates an environment of fear and terror. The jump scares abound with more and more frequency, and as Beth begins slowly losing her mind, you struggle to understand what exactly is going on. As she learns of her husband’s secret life, you do as well, with everyone constantly being kept in the dark. The film loses a bit of its luster in the third act, and the explanation of these forces feels like a letdown, but the ride is more fun than I’ve had in a theater in a long time.

It felt reminiscent of that first Insidious screening when I was surely too young to be watching such a terrifying movie. You can hear the audience gasp and jump in almost every scene, and in a big movie theater, the banging score and noisy film play to new heights.

Rebecca Hall gives a chilling performance in the title role, and her confused determination and soon-to-be mania strike you with constant concern. Hall holds the film together when the particulars of the story start to falter, with the film being at its pinnacle as you don’t know what’s real and what she’s imagining. The supporting cast does a good enough job keeping Hall going, but she remains the star of every scene, and no one comes close to stealing them. The use of similar-looking actors as Hall even succeeds, adding to the horror each time a woman turns around and isn’t quite Rebecca Hall. She makes you feel afraid, and there’s hardly a better barometer in the horror genre.

The Night House might lose steam in its third act and lose some credibility with its ending, but the experience of watching a loud, big, scary horror film in theaters still packs a legitimate punch. In that regard, Bruckner can consider this film a rousing success.

This review was filed from Sundance 2020. Check out all of our coverage from the festival.


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Michael Frank

Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.

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